Even though a lot of noise is made around smartphones, a huge chunk of the Indian mobile phone user base still uses feature phones. And while devices such as the JioPhone are continuing to drive feature phone sales, a lot of people see the point in upgrading to more capable devices. But cost factors mean that most first-time smartphone buyers have a tight budget to work with. It’s for that reason super-affordable devices sell in huge volumes, with Xiaomi holding on to its top spot in India purely on the back of strong sales of the affordable Redmi 6 series.
For the time being, Xiaomi has a firm hold over the sub-Rs 10,000 space, while Jio controls the absolute base segment. However, that isn’t stopping returning Chinese smartphone maker Meizu from giving the space a go. The company marked its return to India earlier this month with three phones across different price points. The most affordable of these is the Meizu C9, retailing at a rather attractive price point of Rs 4,999. It’s far from the glamor of the Meizu 16th, but it still promises a competent experience. We review the new Meizu C9.
Meizu C9 Design and Display
I’ve learned not to expect too much when it comes to design on budget smartphones, but there is a basic expectation that needs to be met even on a sub-Rs 5,000 smartphone. Even a metal body is too much to expect and plastic is the norm in the price range, but users still want a plastic build that is sturdy and capable of somewhat rough usage. The Meizu C9 features an all-plastic construction that doesn’t feel quite as sturdy as I’d have liked, but doesn’t feel too basic either.
What definitely stands out in the classic removable-battery design, which is admittedly something I haven’t seen in a long time on devices. The back panel opens up and you can then put the separate 3,000mAh battery in before you switch on the device. Also under the back panel are two SIM slots and a dedicated microSD card slot, which is conveniently placed away from the battery and doesn’t need you to remove the power block every time you need access to the slots. At the bottom are the micro-USB port and 3.5mm jack, while the right side has the power and volume buttons.
At the front is the 5.45-inch HD+ 18:9 screen, which is about as good as you can expect on a budget device in terms of color, sharpness and general quality. There are relatively thick borders all around the screen, but on the whole it’s a well-designed device with the earpiece, front camera and sensors at the top. Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the front of the device is the poorly-applied factory-fitted screen protector.
Meizu C9 Specifications and Software
While smartphones that cost more can go with better-known chipsets from Qualcomm and MediaTek, the Meizu C9 opts for the new Unisoc SC9832E quad-core 1.3GHz chipset to power the device. Built by the company formerly known as Spreadtrum, the Unisoc chipset is among the company’s recent forays into 4G smartphones, with the company typically known for its feature phone chipsets thus far.
You also get 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, with the ability to add up to 128GB with a microSD card. The phone allows dual-SIM 4G connectivity with VoLTE for voice calling, which will be particularly useful for users on the 4G-only Jio network. The device runs Android 8.1 Oreo with a near-stock Android UI on top, which is a rather useful touch given that the phone doesn’t have much power to deal with a particularly heavy overlay.
Near-stock Android isn’t just about the look and feel; there is refreshingly no bloatware on the device. What you do get is the Google suite of apps along with a few basic system apps including a screen recorder tool, sound recorder, note taking app, and an in-built browser, the last of which is the only truly unnecessary addition. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant, clean and familiar interface that’s easy to learn and keeps things light enough for the already frugal hardware to do the best it can.
Interestingly, you also get face unlock on the device, which is the only biometric form of authentication given that there is no fingerprint sensor here. The method is surprisingly accurate for a budget phone, and works quickly enough on most occasions provided the area is well lit. It’s an interesting bonus on the device, and one that will appeal to customers looking for features and value.
Meizu C9 Performance, Battery and Camera
The Meizu C9 is a Rs 4,999 smartphone powered by a very basic chipset and the bare essentials when it comes to RAM and storage. With that in mind, I approached this review with tempered expectations, and wasn’t too disappointed. As long as you aren’t expecting high levels of performance or for this phone to run multiple apps and graphically-intensive games, you won’t be disappointed.
That said, the phone isn’t smooth even when it comes to the basics. You’ll see a bit of lag and stutter at start-up, and loading any app takes a couple of seconds at least. While the experience is better at start-up, a few hours in will see a bit of stutter and lag. With all of that in mind, the Meizu C9 is perhaps ideal for instant messaging, a bit of social media and web surfing, but intensive functions would need a better device than this.
Battery life is decent, largely because of the energy-efficient hardware on the device. The low-resolution screen, frugal chipset and 3,000mAh battery size contribute to giving you well over a day’s use on a single charge. Charging itself is slow with the bundled 5W charger, and you’ll need to set aside close to three hours to fully top up the Meizu C9.
The device sports a fairly ordinary camera setup, but at this price that’s not something to complain about. You get a 13-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front camera, both of which do about as good a job as you can expect on a budget smartphone. While the Meizu C9 naturally struggles in low-light conditions, regular light will give you images that are usable and entirely shareable on social media.
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There isn’t often much to a budget smartphone, particularly one as basic as the Meizu C9. Indeed, what you get is a device that achieves the basics, with nothing to complain about. Some minor positives such as clean software, good battery life and functional face unlock help in making the Meizu C9 a worthwhile phone to consider at Rs 4,999.
Performance is perhaps a bit disappointing even given the price, but if you stick to the basics of smartphone usage, you won’t find yourself too bothered by the occasional stutter and lag on the phone. On balance, the Meizu C9 is a worthwhile upgrade from a feature phone and an interesting option to consider for someone that needs just the basics. While there are other options in the price range – the Xiaomi Redmi 6A and Honor 7S stand out – these cost a bit more, and going below the critical Rs 5,000 mark will greatly help the Meizu C9.